They brought homemade anti-shutdown signs.
They waved large American and pro-Trump flags.
They circled the state Capitol building and honked their horns. And then they circled around and honked some more.
Today, hundreds of people gathered at a “Reopen PA” rally on the steps of the PA Capitol, on the sidewalk across the street and in vehicles that repeatedly drove around the block.
They were there to protest Gov. Tom Wolf’s orders to shut down “non life sustaining” businesses and to stay at home, measures taken about a month ago to try to contain and fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which, as of today, has infected at least 33,232 Pennsylvanians and killed 1,204 since early March.
There were signs that said, “Every Business Is Essential,” and others that read, “#Fake Crisis,” “Crossfit Is Essential,” “I Want My Nails Done,” and “Jesus Is My Vaccine,” among many others.
Some rally-goers wore face masks, as required by the state health department, but most did not. The crowd in and around the Capitol steps was heavy, with almost no one observing the six-foot social distancing requirement.
The rally was loud, but appeared peaceful. There were few counter-protestors, and the Capitol and state police kept cars and trucks moving in front of the statehouse, despite large crowds on both sides of N. 3rd Street.
When asked why they came out to protest, people cited two main reasons.
First, they said that Wolf’s business shutdown was destroying small businesses and, in fact, numerous commercial vehicles—landscapers, construction companies, a junk hauler and others—repeatedly circled the Capitol. Secondly, they stated that they believed that the “stay-at-home” and other orders issued by Wolf infringed on their civil liberties.
“He [Wolf] is not a dictator,” said Ed Collins of Lancaster County. “He can’t tell me what to do. To me, it’s really that simple.”
Of the dozen or so people interviewed for this story, most also said that they supported President Donald Trump, as evidenced by the many Trump flags, “Trump Pence 2020” signs and “MAGA” hats.
One vendor was doing a brisk business hawking $5 T-shirts that said, “Four More Years,” while another stand sold everything from American flags to “Trump 2020” face masks.
“We want real Republicans in office, not fake ones like [Utah Sen.] Mitt Romney,” said Will Crispen, who drove to Harrisburg today from Berks County with his family.
Several state legislators spoke at the rally, including Reps. Aaron Bernstein (R-Beaver/Butler/Lawrence) and Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon).
“I believe that every one of you is essential and every one of your businesses is life-sustaining,” Diamond told the cheering crowd.
He then accused Wolf of arbitrariness in deciding which businesses remained open and which ones had to close.
“Arbitrarily picking winners and losers is not life-sustaining,” he said.
Wolf today did announce a May 8 date to begin repealing some of his business closure and stay-at-home orders, saying that loosening restrictions would happen gradually and regionally “based upon the data.”
For one rally-goer, however, May 8 seemed like a world away.
“We don’t want to wait until May 8,” said May Pierson of Montgomery County. “We want it all opened today, right now.”